Oh Christmas Tree!

This time last year, I wrote a blog post about Christmas trees and our family’s unorthodox take on them. I argued that, while our trees may not look like the traditional pine tree, they embody the spirit of the season.

This year’s tree is no exception. After years of suggesting we build the tree out of LEGO, the kids finally agreed. For over a week, the living room floor was a construction zone, strewn with LEGO bricks, mini-figures and gears. The two-metre-tall central structure took two evenings of negotiation, planning and construction. Then there were the branches—marvels of LEGO engineering.

Then came the whimsy—that took the longest. A combination staircase/ ladder/ escalator/ elevator winds upward from level to level. A waterwheel turns lazily on the eighth floor. Gravity takes a holiday as a kayaker paddles straight up, trailing his pet shark on a lead beside him, and emergency personnel (including the undead) carry an injured person up the side of a column. Mini-figures evoke Escher on a section of staircase. A large ship juts from both sides of the trunk, as though the tree grew into place around it. A man fishes from the ninth floor. Motorised gears turn a fantasy clock, spin a merry-go-round, drive a hammer in a dwarven workshop, and spin a star. Under the lowest branches, a kiosk sells tickets to visit the tree.

And all that is before ornaments were added.

Now, mini-figures greet Santa Claus, and a giant butterfly takes flight from the top of the tree. Snowflakes, baubles, and our eclectic mix of homemade ornaments (including the Christmas tardigrade, quite a few insects, and possibly the only Trichonympha ornament on the planet) add to the seasonal cheer. To the Christmas purist, I’m certain our tree is an abomination.

But … evenings of family fun, laughter and creativity—the Christmas season doesn’t get any better. 

See the tree in action:


Recipe Rescue

As you all probably know by now, my husband and I develop a lot of our own recipes. We also have recipes collected from friends and family members, magazines, and library books.

For over twenty-five years, we collected all these recipes in a notebook that was never designed to manage so much paper. I looked for a replacement for a long time and found nothing suitable.

Nothing marketed as a recipe notebook, that is. When I got creative (read desperate) I found the perfect solution.

  • One D-ring binder, A5 size
  • A pack of 100 A5 sheet protectors
  • One A5 size lined notebook

I added some homemade card stock tabs to help me organise, and voila—a perfect recipe notebook, with plenty of space for all our recipes.

I can slip photocopied recipes into the sleeves where they’re visible, not wadded together in the back of the notebook like they used to be, and I didn’t even have to copy the handwritten recipes—I just slipped the pages from the old notebook into the sleeves of the new. And the bonus is that recipes are now protected from the inevitable spills.

Knitting Socks

You could call me stubborn.

It would probably be more accurate than the more polite persistent.

But sometimes stubbornness pays off.

I hate knitting.

I’m lousy at it. Really. I was first taught how to knit before the age of ten.

I’m now 47.

I still couldn’t knit my way out of a wet paper bag.

But I’m also stubborn.

I will knit.

Specifically, I will knit socks.

I know, I know. Socks are not the sort of project a non-knitter should attempt. They’re bound to end in tears. And they have, over and over again.

But I’m so close to being able to make all my clothes. I make shirts, trousers, jackets, underwear…

The only thing missing is socks.

Once all your other clothes are custom-made and fit perfectly, the ‘one size fits most’ socks they sell in the stores feel like they were made for aliens.

I need socks that fit.

Which means I need to learn to knit socks. Not just any old socks, but socks that are perfect for my feet.

So, how many socks have I knitted in the past 37 years since my first knitting lesson?


But, as I say, I’m stubborn.

I’ve never been able to knit in the round (which, of course, dashes my chances of making socks), but with fresh stubbornness this winter I had another go.

After several blood-pressure-raising sessions, I have knitted SEVEN CENTIMETRES of sock!

I’m so excited.

Think of it. SEVEN CENTIMETRES! Give me another 37 years and I might make it to the heel of my first sock!

New Life for an Old Rug


A new garden area with freshly laid rug weed-block. Disguised with wood chips, no one will ever know it’s there.

Nothing lasts forever. Even well-made items eventually come to the end of their useful life.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful…in a different way.

Rugs get hard use in our house—there’s an awful lot of traffic in a small space. Add a dose of wool moths and high UV radiation, and it’s no wonder our rugs eventually start falling apart.

But tatty wool rugs don’t need to end up in the landfill. They can serve as excellent weed-blocking mulch in the garden. They last for years and eventually simply rot away. So much nicer than the plastic weed-block that eventually breaks up and stops working, but still needs to be removed and disposed of.

And as an added bonus, out here where there is no rubbish collection, it means we don’t need to haul the old carpet to the tip.

Heating the Greenhouse DIY

greenhouse-waterjugs2-smI wish I had a heated greenhouse. I start my seeds in my office, which has decent light and can be heated at night to help heat-loving seeds germinate and keep tender seedlings from freezing.

But at some point, the plants have to go to the greenhouse or they’ll get hopelessly leggy. Besides, there’s not enough room in the office for all my seedlings, once I really get going in spring.

The greenhouse is great for raising daytime temperatures for the plants and for protecting them from harsh wind. It also protects the plants from light frosts, but sometimes the temperature dips below zero at night, and then the unheated greenhouse can’t protect my plants enough.

If I know the temperature will dive, I can haul all the plants back to my office just for the night, but it’s quite a job—several trips with the wheelbarrow—and always results in some plants getting damaged.

So I’ve gone for passive solar heating in the greenhouse. I had my daughter paint empty 3-litre juice bottles black, and I filled them with water and placed them around the greenhouse. During the day, the water in the bottles heats up, and at night, the bottles slowly release their heat.

Having only one greenhouse, I haven’t been able to scientifically test whether my hot water bottles help, but last year—the first year I deployed the bottles—I was impressed by how well the plants weathered cold nights in the greenhouse. I intend to expand the number of bottles this year, and would love to ring the entire outer edge of the greenhouse with water bottles. If all goes well, I’ll end up with my heated greenhouse, without actually heating my greenhouse.

Spring Roller Coaster


Photo: Boris23; Wikimedia, public domain

The kids are back at school today after two weeks of school holidays. It’s the last term of the school year, and the start of what I always think of as a roller coaster ride.

For the past two weeks we’ve been slowly climbing the first hill. I could hear the tik-tik-tik of the chain winching us up, to perch at the top of the slope. Today we begin the descent to the end of the year. It will start slowly—I’ll be lulled into thinking I have plenty of time to do the gardening, get all the nagging spring DIY done, think about Christmas gifts, plan summer’s vacations. But before I know it, we’ll be hurtling along toward the end of the year, much faster than I anticipated. The garden will take longer that I’d hoped. The end-of-the-year school activities will start piling up. I’ll put off worrying about Christmas gifts until I’m frantic about it. Three DIY projects will balloon into ten. Late frost will keep me scrambling to protect plants. Livestock will get sick and require extra care. School will end much sooner than I’d like it to.

Time will compress. A month will be over in a week. A week will last a day. A day will be over in a blink of the eye.

Before I know it, we’ll be heading into the week before Christmas, and my Spring to-do list will be every bit as long as it is today.

I’ve learned to accept this state. I’ve almost learned to enjoy the frenetic insanity of the combination of the end of the school year, holidays, and spring gardening all at once.

But every year I sit here at the top of the roller coaster wondering if I really should have gotten on in the first place.

A Concrete Solution

2016-10-04-12-35-55Whenever we mix concrete, we’re always left with a little extra. What do you do with half a bucket of concrete?

In the past we’ve made the odd decorative paver with the leftovers—scattered a few pretty shells in the bottom of a plant pot saucer and filled the saucer with concrete. But we don’t have many saucers, and they really don’t use much concrete.

Last time we poured concrete, however, we came up with a perfect use for the extra—garden weights.

It’s windy here. Very windy. I was forever grabbing rocks, firewood, and broken bricks to weigh down tarps, frost cloth, bird netting, and everything else light enough to blow away. But they’re inconvenient—awkward to handle and often not really heavy enough to do the job.

These garden weights are perfect, though.

I filled cheap plastic flower pots (from plants we bought at the garden centre) with concrete, but before it hardened, I added a handle made of high tensile fencing wire. The first batch I made, I just used the wire. They’re nice, and very useful, but the wire is tough on the hands when you’re carrying them. This time I added a short piece of irrigation pipe to the wire to make a comfortable handle (you could also use a bit of old garden hose).

The best thing about them is they’re entirely made of ‘waste’—leftover concrete, plant pots that would have ended up in the rubbish, wire salvaged from some other project, and used irrigation pipe.

No, that’s not true. The best thing about them is that they work great—they’re nice and heavy, uniform in size, and easy to lug around.

A New Oven


Partly deconstructed old oven.

The old bread oven was almost ten years old. Theoretically, it might have lasted longer, but earthquakes and aging bricks took their toll. A crack split it top to bottom, and we regularly had to pick gravel out of our bread.

So the kids spent last weekend dismantling the old oven to make way for a new one. This one will be quake-proofed with a reinforced concrete base, and include such luxuries as an ash pit, a chimney, and a roof.


Ready to pour the new foundation.

The bread oven is my husband’s project—he’s the family builder and the bread baker. But all of us will lend our muscles to the effort. We’ll mix concrete, haul bricks, and provide whatever brute labour is necessary.

And all of us will enjoy the breads, cakes, cookies, and dinners that come out of it.

Mmmm…I can taste them already!

Smell of a Memory

2016-07-29 13.55.18I was hanging up laundry early yesterday morning, when I caught a whiff of the past.

I don’t know where the smell came from, or whether it was even real, but there it was—the unmistakable smell of our house when we moved into it eleven years ago.

More than one previous owner ignored maintenance on the house. Today, I can’t believe we were so desperate to have bought it. The owners before us allowed the roof to leak, the toilet to leak, the piles and weatherboards to rot. They covered the smell of rotting carpets with air fresheners and sweet-smelling flowers.

The first thing we did, even before moving in, was to remove the carpets and air fresheners. Then I attacked the highly perfumed (and disgusting to my nose) flowering shrubs by the door.

We quickly improved the smell of the house (and fixed all those leaks and rotted bits), but it made a strong impression on me. On chilly winter mornings like the day we moved in, I can still smell those awful flowers.

Creative Combinations

2016-07-08 13.14.04 smOne of the cool things about having teenaged children is their increasing ability to combine ideas and skills in new and exciting ways.

Last weekend, my daughter was weaving flax fronds. I noted she had the Fun with Flax book out, and assumed she was making one of the projects in that book.

Some time later, I saw her with a wide cylinder of woven flax and a stick. She was using the stick to spin and toss the flax cylinder into the air.

I thought the idea must have come from the book, but no–she’d used weaving techniques in the book to create a unique shape, then used new skills in plate spinning (learned in PE in their circus arts unit) to manipulate the woven shape at the end of a stick.

How awesome is that?